JOLIET, Ill. — With a daring drive through the middle, Brad Keselowski showed how badly he wants to win another championship.

Keselowski used a three-wide pass of Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday to win the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The victory automatically advances Keselowski into the second round of the 10-race Chase, which will eliminate four drivers every third race under NASCAR’s new format.

As his Team Penske team celebrated in Victory Lane, Keselowski moved his name on a bracket-type Chase grid into the next round.

“Man, the next two weeks are going to be a lot of fun, knowing we don’t have to worry too much and we are going to move up,” said Keselowski, who opened the Chase as the top seed.

As Larson and Harvick staged a hold-your-breath, side-by-side race for the lead following a restart with 19 laps left, Keselowski charged through the middle to grab control of the race. He easily pulled away from the field while Harvick and Larson had their hands full trying to hold off Jeff Gordon.

“I saw Kyle and Kevin racing each other really hard. They were aggressively side drafting and I was waiting for an opportunity to strike and it came,” Keselowski said.

Contact between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. set up one final restart with six laps to go, but Keselowski had no trouble as he surged to the front for his second consecutive victory and Sprint Cup Series-leading fifth of the year.

Gordon was second, followed by the rookie Larson, Joey Logano and Harvick.

Pit stops

Kyle Busch bounced back from a disappointing finish in the Nationwide Series to get the win in the Trucks Series race Saturday night at Chicagoland.

  • In Concord, N.C., rain washed out most of the final eliminations Sunday in the Countdown-opening NHRA Carolina Nationals, forcing series officials to postpone them until next weekend in Texas.